Prepared For The Worst

Chris Morgan surveys the “severe and fatalistic” aphorisms of the the neglected Colombian writer Nicolás Gómez Dávila, which he believes exemplify the reactionary, rather than conservative, approach to politics:

Conservatism’s appeal has always rested in its professed unwillingness to compromise in pursuit of its causes. A reactionary distinguishes himself or herself from the movement conservative by being committed and uncompromising to a degree that discomforts the latter. The conservative embraces democracy to the extent that the conservative can direct it in reaching his or her goals. The reactionary merely resigns him or herself to its existence. “I am an aristocrat,” said early 19th-century Virginia congressman John Randolph of Roanoke, “I love liberty, I hate equality.”

If conservatives are characterized by nostalgia, reactionaries are characterized by decadence. Conservatives build networks and speak in sound bites; reactionaries build mausoleums and speak in epitaphs. Reactionaries are aesthetic rather than practical thinkers. They play alongside, if not across, the border of tragedy and fatalism. Civil debate is meaningless to the side that has already lost.

“If the reactionary concedes the fruitlessness of his principles and the uselessness of his censures,” Gómez Dávila wrote in his essay “The Authentic Reactionary,” “it is not because the spectacle of human confusion suffices for him. The reactionary does not refrain from taking action because the risk frightens him, but rather because he judges that the forces of society are at the moment rushing headlong toward a goal that he disdains.”